My journey to living a slow and purposeful life in France

Living a slow and purposeful life in France was always the goal. The idea of sitting in the garden, drinking coffee and reading the masses of books which I have accumulated over the years (and not yet got round to reading) is something which I aspired to long before we started our journey to becoming permanent residents in France.

The problem with my dream is that it was a little idealistic for several reasons:

A bottle of cava on our coffee table in front of the wood burning stove - Living a slow and purposeful life in France
A relaxing pace of life in France was always my goal

Property in France is cheap, but the cost of living is not

It’s wonderful to be able to rent cheaply, buy a home with a small mortgage, or purchase a property outright – gratefully, these are all very achievable goals for a foreigner like me. However, I think it’s important to be reminded that there is a cost to living wherever you lay your hat. Basic expenses still exist even if you do nothing ostentatious. This might include:

  • Taxes
  • Insurances
  • Subsistence (even if you grow a lot of food it’s unlikely you will be fully self-sufficient)
  • Utilities (gas, water, electricity)
  • Repairs
Owning chickens can be a great way to produce your own food

For us, this has meant working – and working legally – including paying our taxes and social charges to ensure that we are contributing to the country and earning our right to stay. Setting our French businesses up to allow us to find customers and clients, and meet the minimum income requirements to be considered self-supporting on our Carte de Sejour application has been a stressful process.

We have been fortunate to have been able to use some of our rudimentary French language skills when organising ourselves, and at one point Graham had to complete a 30+ hour course in French just to be able to register as an artisan (a requirement which has now be annulled). It was pretty much a vertical learning curve in so many respects, but again one that we, now at eighteen months in, we feel that we have a good handle on and can manage without stress.

The right to remain in France

We are in the process of each acquiring our Carte de Sejour (for the most up-to-date information on gaining legal residency post-Brexit I highly recommend checking our the Remain in France Together website). Our fingerprints have been taken at our local préfecture and we are waiting for some kind of news – any kind of news (!!) – that we have been accepted. The Carte is the culmination of years of work to understand the system that we hope to join, so to receive this would really mean a lot to me – a formal recognition of our efforts.

Two large paper folders on the dining table - Living a slow and purposeful life in France
Our finished Carte de Sejour applications

Building my version of a quiet life in France

I found it pretty (naively) surprising that when I moved to France, my life didn’t suddenly just become very calm and tranquil – full of book reading and coffee drinking! My life in the UK had been hectic. I was worn out. The process of selling our Bristol house, closing my businesses and moving our things had depleted my energy to levels I had not known it possible to function with. I think I am still recovering from that exhausting process, just over eighteen months on.

Happily, I can now report that things have become a lot easier – but I do seem to have this habit of finding that life has become calmer, and then adding some chaos to it. I’ll take it to my therapist…!

Coffee and porridge on the table of our rustic French home
A slow breakfast in France

Adopting les animaux de compagnie

Adding pets to our life has been a very rewarding, but sometimes stressful process. Margot – our seven-year-old rescue cocker spaniel – is a wonderful addition to our home, but severely traumatised by her difficult earlier life. Being solely used to breed pedigree puppies, she had no understanding of boundaries, living in a home with people, she had no lead training, was poorly socialised and is chronically anxious. She has been a testing but joyful dog and I would not be without her, but bit by bit these small changes (smaller than moving countries I suppose) have accumulated to give a feeling of life being full, and so the books and films that I long to absorb have felt a little far away.

Margot our rescue cocker spaniel living a slow and purposeful life in France
Margot is the little lion we never knew we needed

If you’ve been following my Instagram posts you will have seen that we recently added a rescue kitten to our home – Percy – and that she too has become an adorable little character – but managing our small (currently) four-room home with three pets has become a bit onerous – so if you should see me somewhere on social media talking about adopting another animal anytime soon – STOP ME! It is lovely to have so many fluffy people in our home, but it does add to a) the cost of living and b) the time it takes before I’m able to have my first coffee of the morning, because of course, everyone has needs (hello chickens…).

Percy has recently joined our frugal family

Learning to say “no”

So the point of this post (I promise, I’m getting there…) is something which comes up again and again in my chats with you all on social media – how we all have to learn to say no to things, and to put boundaries in place to keep ourselves well and allow space to replenish.

I’ve not always felt particularly able to do that given the constraints upon us as a result of Brexit – the minimum income requirement being the biggest. It propelled me into a place of putting a huge amount of energy into my work, and as a result, I wasn’t especially available to anyone for a time, physically or emotionally.

I'm learning how to start living a slow and purposeful life in France
I’m figuring out what it means to me to live slowly in France

Ironically, 2020 was the year in which I decided that I would start living a slow and purposeful life in France. I decided to travel more and visit friends, to take regular time off work and to invest more in my friendships. Of course, thanks to COVID-19 that didn’t happen, and instead 2020 became another year of work being extremely draining. Not because I was throwing myself into it, but rather because of the collective trauma of our societies, it was throwing itself at me.

Working as a talking therapist going through the same issues as my clients in real-time was a first for me – and I imagine many therapists. But with new, extremely robust boundaries I found that I was able to navigate my way back to a place of calm, and get myself much closer to where I have for so long wanted to be – in the luxurious position of being able to choose whether I read that book, or drink that coffee, or whatever.

Because I choose to, not because I *have* to.

How to start keeping chickens in France

If you’re wondering how to start keeping chickens in France then this blog post should come in very handy…

Chicken keeping French vocab

Generally, when we refer to chickens in French they are poules, not poulets.

poule – hen
poulet – chicken (to eat)
coq – rooster / cock

Allow me to give you some more useful chicken-related French vocabulary to start you on your chicken keeping journey:

poulailler – chicken coop
copeaux de bois – wood shavings
oeuf – egg
blé – corn

la terre de diatomées – diatomaceous earth
désinfectant – disinfectant
vinaigre de cidre de pomme – apple cider vinegar
coquilles d’huîtres – oyster shell

How to start keeping chickens in France
How to start keeping chickens in France

Building or buying a chicken coop

It is our responsibility as chicken owners to keep our girls safe. We are charged with protecting them from predators and illness. There are things we can do on both fronts when selecting the place that our chickens will live. One of the first elements of starting to keep chickens in France is to provide them with a coop.

The coop should be solid, free of rot and mould, dry, secure at night, well ventilated and have a way for them to access it without difficulty. It will need to be able to be closed up at night once they are in to keep them from predators and accessible enough to you for it to be able to be cleaned our regularly to guard them against pests and illness.

How to start keeping chickens in France
The first iteration of our chicken coop

This sounds pretty strict but its actually not that hard to achieve. You can buy a coop online now and build it yourself – or even get a second hand one from leboncoin. We ended up repurposing an outbuilding that had previously served as a dog kennel. Whatever you choose, just make sure you can clean it and it’s safe.

Creating a safe chicken run

The amount of space you will need for your chickens depends upon how many you have. We have six girls in a run which is approximately 5m x 10m. This is their morning and evening space. They come into here for food, water, shade, laying in their nest boxes and I shut them in here for safety from dusk onwards until their coop door is closed and locked later on.

The run which we have was also in place when we moved in. It is double fenced since it used to house chasse dogs, and there is a concrete base around the perimeter. This is helpful because it deters dogs/foxes etc from digging their way in.

How to start keeping chickens in France
The chicken run is approximately 5m x 10m

If you’re creating your own you will want the fence to be high enough to stop the birds from flying over it (ours is 6 foot) and made from gnaw-proof fencing – chicken wire is actually a misnomer – it’s not safe for creating a run as it can be chewed through – so get something thick and durable. We have a stainless steel chain link fence, but you can also get smaller electrified net fences if you have a smaller space or want to move them around.

Our girls free-range in the daytime in the top third of our garden, and we had to do some chicken proofing to ensure they wouldn’t hurt themselves and that the fences were high and sound.

Free ranging chickens in our garden
Free ranging chickens in our garden

Rescuing or buying your chickens in France

On asking ourselves how we would start keeping chickens in France, one element that was very important to us was that the hens were rescued. We love animals and the prospect of being able to save some hens from being culled at eighteen months (when egg-laying becomes less reliable) fit our goals perfectly.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon the association Poule Pour Tous who are dedicated to saving hens from the abattoir at that eighteen-month marker. You can read more about them and how they work here.

How to keep chickens in France
All of the chickens have their own personalities

The hens come from local organic, free-range commercial farms so they are in relatively good shape and of course have had their vaccinations. We decided to order five hens (and actually received six but we’re pretty sure Buffy is old and doesn’t lay) who arrived very carefully boxed and gently delivered to us in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown. We immediately put them into their furnished coop with food and water and left them to acclimatise.

How to start keeping chickens in France
Sunbathing hens in their run

What followed was a crash course in chicken welfare and handling! We let the girls out some hours later and they loved their run. At the time it had reasonably high grass and lots of bugs so they made their most of scratching about and getting to know the place. By the evening they did not yet know that they should go into their new home so we corralled them in before nightfall. Picking up and holding a hen is a bit like holding a big tennis ball. You don’t need to squeeze her (she will be compliant) but you do need to be firm, and unafraid!

Raising your own free-range eggs

There is much more to chicken care than I could hope to include in one blog post – there are some excellent books out there on the subject and some great YouTube videos, as well as my Instagram stories where you can see how we get on with our girls.

If you’re seriously wondering how to start keeping chickens in France and considering going ahead and adopting your own hens, then I highly suggest reading up on everything first – and then going for it!

The whole process has been a true delight. The girls are friendly, happy and producing four large eggs a day on average for us. We can’t eat that many so often end up giving them away to friends as a gift and the quality is unbeatable in my opinion.

We get four (large!) eggs per day from our hens
We get four (large!) eggs per day from our hens

Plus you have the satisfaction of knowing that your girls would have been killed had you not intervened. Knowing the individual and very distinct personalities of all of our girls now, I am so glad they ended up with us. They have really enriched our lives and our cooking!

What if I want to go away? Can I leave my hens?

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked on how to start keeping chickens in France. Thankfully the answer is yes!

While it is important to let your hens out early in the morning so that they get as much sun and nutrients as possible for their health and egg production, it is also important that they are safely shut away at night to protect them from predation.

Chickens cannot see in the dark, so they naturally take themselves back to their coop once darkness falls (yes really!). They have a very prescriptive routine (and soon you shall too!) but one way to have a social life around that (or indeed a lie-in) is to install an automatic chicken door. We bought one pretty much straight away – for the sake of the girls, and ourselves – and we haven’t looked back.

The second iteration of our coop with automatic Chicken Guard door
The second iteration of our coop with automatic Chicken Guard door

Graham installed our Chicken Guard in a single day. It runs on batteries which last approximately a year and is self locking. The version which we have allows you to manually program the time into the device to set when it will open and close the coop door, but you can get the next level up which has a solar detector on it and removes the need to manually update it through the seasons. There is also a version for extreme weather.

You can see them and read reviews through my Amazon storefront here – where I have a whole section on chicken keeping and products that I recommend, including the excellent River Cottage Handbook on chicken keeping (below) which I consider my poule-bible!

In addition, there are also groups on Facebook (link below) where you can ask questions and learn more about chicken keeping. It’s all about the research – but if you have any questions or would like to know more do drop a comment underneath and I’ll do my best to answer!

Useful chicken keeping links

10 Frugal ways to food shop in France

Shopping for food in France can be expensive. Here are my top 10 frugal ways to food shop in France.

10 Frugal ways to food shop in France
10 Ways to food shop frugally in France

1 – Bring your own shopping bags – a basic, but essential for the frugal food shopper, the environment and your pocket. Even basic carrier bags also cost money in France.

2 – Make sure you’re paying in euros, not your old/home currency – the conversion on UK sterling debit cards, for example, is eyewatering. Make sure you have a euro card to pay for your shopping with.

3 – If you receive the “pub” or advert leaflets to your home or holiday home in France, be sure to check it out for any offers which you would like to take advantage of. The “foire aux vins” in early summer can be great value.

10 Frugal ways to food shop in France
Love Marmite, hate the overinflated price in France

4 – Bring the “pub” leaflet with you if it’s an important purchase! Sometimes the offer doesn’t show up at the till, or the store hasn’t yet updated their signage to reflect the reduction. If you’re in the right, it will be easier to explain with evidence.

5 – Try out new French foods and avoid only buying the things which you used to buy before. Yes, I know Heinz baked beans taste nice, but they’re going to be MUCH more expensive than the shop’s own brand of “haricots blancs à la tomate”. And don’t even get me started on the cost of Marmite!

fresh fruit shopping in France
Compare the cost per kilo for both bagged and loose produce

6 – Buy in bulk! If you have the storage, there are often offers on buying larger quantities on things which you know you will use and have a long shelf life – for example, washing powder or dishwasher tablets.

7 – Buying in bulk means you won’t need to make so many trips to the shops, which also saves fuel, which saves the planet, and your wallet – an underrated way to tick off one of my 10 Frugal ways to food shop in France.

8 – Check the weight per kilo of loose fruit and veg vs bagged. There’s no hard and fast rule for which will be more economical. Be sure to check both before putting an item in your basket.

10 Ways to food shop frugally in France
Check for reduced items that you can freeze right away, or cook and freeze for later

9 – Check for antigaspi! Aka the reduced-to-clear items with short best-before dates. But do only buy what you need, it’s not a bargain if you waste it!

10 – Think of your freezer – can’t eat your 24 reduced to clear pain-au-raisin in the next three days? No, nor can I, hard as I am willing to try. So freeze them and pop them back in the oven before you need them for a tasty stasis-conserved treat.

Subscribe to the Frugal France newsletterFor more information, offers and French bargains!